In a classic structured roll call vote, the House narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion omnibus bill to fund most of the government until September of next year. The vote saw defections at both ends of the political spectrum, with 62 Republicans voting against the measure, while 57 Democrats crossed the aisle to support the bill.
Conservatives, Democrat House Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren all worked against the legislation, while House GOP Leadership, Sen. Harry Reid, and President Obama urged its passage. The debate shows both parties are still shell-shocked from the 2014 midterm elections.
If the 2014 midterms had a common denominator, it was a complete repudiation of President Obama and his six-year tenure as President. Democrats outspent — and in many cases out-campaigned — Republicans, yet experienced staggering losses up and down the ballot. Democrats didn’t just lose the highest-profile Senate races but House, Governor, and state legislative races across the country. Nearly 100 years of Democrat political gains were obliterated in almost the blink of an eye.
Yet, the omnibus spending bill offered by GOP leadership suggests a party still unsure of its footing. The GOP seems hesitant and unsure of the massive political opportunity given to it by voters. The bill puts off any debate over the appropriate size of government until months after the Republicans take control of the Senate and statehouses across the country. It makes no changes to Obamacare and allows the President’s unpopular executive action on immigration to proceed, at least until the end of February. Moreover, it funds most of Obama’s requests for supplemental spending to address Ebola or the Islamic State.
In exchange, Republicans won approval for some regulatory changes that, while somewhat significant economically, mean little to the average voter. The party also secured changes to campaign finance rules that will strengthen the parties’ political operations. These are the concessions secured by a minority party, not one that is politically ascendant. Obama remains deeply unpopular and faces growing dissension among Democrats, yet Republicans offered him a lifeline into the new year.
For years, Republicans have lectured conservatives about the political limits of holding only one chamber of Congress. Until Republicans have both chambers of Congress, they sneered, there was little the party could do to check Obama’s agenda.
Next month, however, Republicans will hold an historic majority in the House, a strong majority in the Senate, and will control all levers of power in 30 states. Just seven states will have a Democrat governor and state legislature. There are nations where third parties hold as much legislative power as the Democrats will. With a President plagued by low approval ratings, one wonders what the Republican excuse will be then if it fails to roll back Obama’s agenda.
What is the point of political power if one chooses not to use it?
The Democrats are themselves facing this existential crisis. At almost the last minute, Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren gambled on rallying the left against the omnibus deal. The mutiny was so serious that the White House was forced to lobby rank-and-file Democrats to support the spending deal. The mind struggles to find a similar precedent in America’s 238-year history. Obama prevailed in the end, but only just.
As the debate moves to the Senate, Sen. Warren is in a position to delay the deal if she chooses. Majority Leader Reid needs unanimous consent from all Senators to be able to bring the spending bill for a vote this weekend. If Warren merely objects to the request, the normal Senate process prevails, putting off a final vote until early next week. Warren’s complaints on the bill are a bit esoteric, but can be effectively framed as blocking a gift to Wall Street banks. That is an objection, and narrative, that people can understand.
Even if Warren forgoes a delay in the Senate, her mutiny is a clear sign that the Democrat party is moving beyond Barack Obama. Both parties, frankly, seem exhausted from the 2014 political marathon and are probably happy to put off any fights until next year.
The legacy of the Cromnibus debate, though, is that neither party is sure of itself. Republicans suddenly have more power than they are prepared to exercise. Democrats can’t figure out how it all went so wrong, so fast. The next Presidential election begins in earnest in just a few months. No one seems ready for it.